Why is "Leda and the Swan" considered part of modern poetry?

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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There may be a number of reasons for which William Butler Yeats’ poem “Leda and the Swan” could be considered part of modern poetry.

One clear reason could be that “Leda and the Swan” follows one of the major trends in modern poetry – the attempt, in the words of Ezra Pound, to “make it new.”  The modern artist often purposefully recycles and, at the same time, transforms the patterns or structures of art from the past. In Yeats’ case, the centuries-old form of the sonnet is being recycled here (perhaps even hybridized, in the mixing of the Shakespearean and Petrarchan conventions of the sonnet) even as it being violated. The traditional sonnet is about love and beauty, not about violent rape. (See the link to the enotes study guide below for more discussion of this topic. Another section of the study guide talks about how the poem may be read in light of both the conflicts between Britain and Ireland and the Catholic Church’s censorship of literature in Ireland.)

In more ways than one, Yeats seems similar to a very different modern poet, Claude McKay, a politically active African American poet also “mak[ing] it new” in his own sonnets from the early decades of the twentieth century.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

There may be a number of reasons for which William Butler Yeats’ poem “Leda and the Swan” could be considered part of modern poetry.

One clear reason could be that “Leda and the Swan” follows one of the major trends in modern poetry – the attempt, in the words of Ezra Pound, to “make it new.”  The modern artist often purposefully recycles and, at the same time, transforms the patterns or structures of art from the past. In Yeats’ case, the centuries-old form of the sonnet is being recycled here (perhaps even hybridized, in the mixing of the Shakespearean and Petrarchan conventions of the sonnet) even as it being violated. The traditional sonnet is about love and beauty, not about violent rape. (See the link to the enotes study guide below for more discussion of this topic. Another section of the study guide talks about how the poem may be read in light of both the conflicts between Britain and Ireland and the Catholic Church’s censorship of literature in Ireland.)

In more ways than one, Yeats seems similar to a very different modern poet, Claude McKay, a politically active African American poet also “mak[ing] it new” in his own sonnets from the early decades of the twentieth century.

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